Today I received two envelopes from DHHS. We no longer qualify for food stamps. I’m not panicked, but I am a little worried. My financial situation has improved and my benefits have been only $14 a month for some time so on the surface it’s not a dramatic cut. However, as a food stamps recipient there are other benefits that will now cost me money. School lunches will no longer be free. I also won’t qualify for several scholarships for my children’s activities.
More than this relatively costly change, though, the mail contained what I now know is a very typical mixed and confusing kind of message from the DHHS. As you can see here, both packets contained information about our eligibility for MaineCare.
At this point, I suspect I don’t qualify but my daughters will. This means I will have the help to cover the co-pays required by their father’s health insurance plan. That makes a good difference for me (if they are actually covered).
In this report from DHHS, none of my childcare expenses are showing even though I entered them in my last recertification submission. Does this mean they no longer count? Does it mean something got dropped? I will need to call to find out, in case it makes a difference in the equation. One phone call alone is unlikely, based on my experience, to give me a helpful answer. It will also very likely take at least 15 minutes just to get someone on the phone to answer my questions, if I don’t get disconnected by their phone system several times as I’m on hold (which happened to me more than a few times).
And, finally, did you know these benefits are determined based on gross annual income? As my business grows in significant ways (yay!), my costs also grow (necessary boo). In fact, last year, more than 60% of my income went to expenses like my assistant, subcontractors, essential database subscriptions, and website maintenance, for example. My income didn’t really increase very much in the end. That doesn’t matter to DHHS as they don’t consider expenses in their calculations.
I’m not desperate, and there is no crisis right now. But, I am now in a much more precarious position. These new $20± items add up quickly. Loss of a larger client, or when (not if) my 215k-miles car breaks down for good, my financial situation will be dire. Despite this, I’m able to know that we’ll make it through okay. I know this because because of my experience as a person who comes from privilege. I know it will get better and I have the skills and support systems to get me through the scary times. Most truly poor people don’t have my advantages.
Where I am now is frightening, but I won’t lose hope. Living day-to-day without the knowledge that things will get better—while they won’t get better for most people living in real poverty—would be nearly impossible to survive.
This “no groceries challenge” lasted just a month, and not even that (twice I bought fresh fruits and vegetables). Last night I went to the grocery store and bought, within reason, what I wanted. Like the challenges before, my perspective about what I “need” has adjusted to a more sustainable level. And, as it was before, I was full of gratitude when I had the option of going for the fresh produce. Not everyone gets to do this.
When I write about the no groceries challenges, or being “newly poor,” I write mostly for people who have backgrounds like mine. I hope to share with people who have always meant well; who embraced what I’ve always considered the liberal philosophies of helping those who need help the most. Even as I approach financial stability, I want to call on those many months where I lived with less than I’d ever known before.
I understand better why people who need the most help feel condescended to or patronized by well-meaning people. I also understand better why it seems poor people support policies that are “against their own interests.” I want to help people like me to do what they have intended to all along. There is a change in perspective that needs to happen. Instead of “helping them,” we need to “help each other.” I’ll write about it more in my newspaper column, but I’ll likely continue sharing thoughts here that are less fully formed and more personal.
(And, I expect to resist the temptation to go to the grocery store for “just a few things,” whenever the mood strikes.)
In the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy examining my own role in racism, classism, and genderism. What I’ve learned is both disgusting and not surprising. I did much of the “work” on racism in the 90s. But then, I stopped.
I get to “stop” if I want to.
As I’ve re-focused my attention (again on racism, more recently on socio-economic class, just touching on genderism), I’ve found myself utterly and completely exhausted by the whole thing. Right now, I feel like retreating into my own little privilege bubble where everything is easy.
I have a choice.
In the 90s, I felt “white guilt” because I didn’t want to be racist. I was out of touch with the actual issues because it was all about me and my experience.
These days, the bell still can’t be unrung. I know that when I retreat into the easy ways, it’s a choice I get to make without many direct consequences. Many, many people don’t have the choice. They have to live with racism, classism, and genderism every day and it’s inescapable.
I’m not sure what I’ll do on a daily basis. I see now that the only way I can really make change is to: 1) listen to people who experience it without the option to take a break *without interjecting my own experiences/perspectives*, and, 2) uncover ways I can help make systemic, institutional level changes and do those things.
But, my god, it’s not easy. I literally can’t imagine how “not easy” it would be if I could never escape the fight.
As I dumped out my tea because it was too bitter without milk, I thought about going to the market. Eggs, milk, and some fresh vegetables (maybe fruit, though I have a few apples and a grapefruit left). I have to decide how firmly committed I am to my current no groceries challenge. It’s only been 10 days. But, it’s been 10 days.
My younger daughter was vomiting last week and I got an “oral electrolyte solution,” oyster crackers, and ginger ale. It was cheating on the challenge, and I knew it. I valued my ability to make that choice. I thought of people who would find themselves unable to buy things for their sick children. Maybe they don’t have the money, maybe they don’t have a co-parent to help with transportation, or maybe their own health issues meant they needed to stay home. I felt grateful.
I’ve reached the point in this challenge where I have been looking at my pantry with more interest. While the girls are with their father, what meals can I prepare ahead and freeze? What treats for lunch boxes or after school snacks can I make now for later in the week?
On Friday, I picked up the final share in my “meat share,” from Wolf Pine Farm in Alfred. I paid for it over the year last year, thanks in great part to my SNAP benefits, back when I received more than $14/month. This means I’ve got more meat than I feel I know what to do with. Thank goodness for my deep freezer. Again, I feel grateful.
I have pantry space, freezer space, and I know how to use food strategically. Flinching feelings of “deprivation” or frustration only make me more aware of how much I really do have.
Limiting it to milk, eggs, and fresh produce, (and maybe some chocolate), I will go to the market today. I get to do that without serious consequences. I’m very lucky.